Cirencester’s ex-Woolworths: a window on the rise of discounters
I often talk about how the fate of ex-Woolworths stores provides a fascinating ‘window’ on the changing high street, and the ex-Woolies in Cirencester (store #394) – which opened on 26 April 1930, 82 years ago today – is no exception.
Looking at the new occupants of former Woolworths gives us a flavour of the retail market dynamic in particular towns, as well as a snapshot of many of the retailers that are expanding and doing well in the current economic climate.
Two of those aggressively expanding chains are represented in Cirencester’s former Woolworths at 9-11 Cricklade Street: the discount outdoor retailer Mountain Warehouse and the single-price variety store chain Poundland, both of which opened in the attractive Gloucestershire town at the end of 2010.
Both businesses’ recent rise is remarkable. In 2008 – the year that Woolworths went bust – Mountain Warehouse had just 39 stores and Poundland 167. Today, they have 147 and over 350 stores respectively, meaning that the two chains have added 300 shops between them in four years – quite an achievement at a time when the high street is so often reported (wrongly, I would argue) to be on its last legs. As with other expanding discounters that I’ve often written about before – such as Store Twenty One and B&M – good-quality but affordable space freed up by Woolies’ demise seems to have been a significant driver of this growth.
The building, meanwhile, looks exactly like a 1930s Woolworths – with all the familiar architectural features that regular readers will recognise by now – though its odd lack of symmetry is, I believe, the result of a 1950s extension in the same style. From an aesthetic point of view, however, it’s perhaps a pity that the building couldn’t have been subdivided in a way that paid more heed to the symmetry of the original five-bay section.
Still, that’s a minor quibble, and the important thing is that the large ex-Woolies site has been brought back into active use. Given that Cirencester is not only the gateway to the Cotswolds but is also packed with character, delightful independent shops, and a quirkily higgledy piggledy House of Fraser, it’s little wonder that two of the UK’s fastest-growing chains were keen for a piece of the action.